Registered dietitians are experts in the disciplines of food and nutrition. They translate the complex science of nutrition into healthy, real-world solutions for clients. Registered dietitians work in many different employment settings, but most hold advanced degrees. Some registered dietitians maintain certifications in specialized practice areas, such as nutrition support, pediatric nutrition and diabetes education.
What is Their Education?
Registered dieticians must hold a bachelor's degree that has been earned at a regionally accredited college or university. The degree program must be endorsed by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), but some states accept accreditation from the Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) and Coordinated Program in Dietetics (CP). Most four-year degree programs in dietetics require students to submit proof of completing certain prerequisites, such as biology, anatomy, chemistry and physiology.
Students learn a variety of subjects related to food, health and nutritional sciences. Sample classes include physiology, culinary arts, food systems, organic chemistry and nutrition therapy. Additional classes include public health, metabolism macronutrients and medical nutrition interventions. Non-health related classes include business, psychology and communication. All accredited programs will require the student to complete an internship or practicum in a health care facility under the supervision of a registered dietician.
What are their Licensing Requirements?
There are standard educational and professional requirements for registered dietitians in every state. This includes the completion of at least 1200 hours of supervised practice through a CP or ACEND approved internship. Alternatively, students can take the Individualized Supervised Practice Pathway (ISPP) offered through certain ACEND programs. Once this is complete, the student must pass the national dietician exam that is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). In order to maintain their accreditation, registered dieticians need to complete continuing educational requirements.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the employment trend of dietitians is expected to grow at the same average of most occupations. This is primarily because there are increased concerns about preventing disease, healthy lifestyles and wholesome nutrition. Although the employment outlook in hospitals will probably remain the same, there will most likely be higher demand in physician clinics, nursing homes, residential care facilities and community health centers. There are many more potential work environments for registered dietitians.
Where Do They Work?
All hospitals and clinics employ registered dietitians to educate patients about nutrition and healthy eating practices. For patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, they administer medical nutrition therapy together with other health care professionals. Some registered dietitians work with school districts, daycare centers and universities to help manage the food service operations. Those who enjoy the academic environment may end up teaching nurses, dentists and physician assistants in colleges and medical centers.
Registered dieticians who want to work as independent consultants may find work in companies that operate fitness centers, process food and sell edible products to the public. Some enjoy working in culinary schools, corporate wellness programs and professional sports organizations. Finally, some pursue doctoral degrees and work for research centers and pharmaceutical companies.
Registered dieticians improve health through changing lifestyles, influencing community trends and promoting healthy living.